With Carina Ruiz in the lead, a group of young birders look intently through binoculars under clear blue skies.

Nature Explorations program manager Carina Ruiz birding with program participants. Photo: Audubon Great Lakes.

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Nature Explorations Program at Rio Salado Invests in the Next Generation of Conservation Leaders

Youth leadership program launches in South Phoenix

Audubon Southwest is launching a youth leadership and community engagement program called Nature Explorations at the Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center. The goal is to connect neighboring communities of color to local natural areas like the Rio Salado through the leadership development of young people from South Phoenix.

Center Director Genaro Ruiz envisions the Center as a vibrant community nature center and urban park that’s a welcoming and inclusive venue for lifelong education and community action. He believes young leaders are key to this vision and the future of conservation. When Genaro learned about Audubon Great Lakes’ success working with urban youth in Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee and other Midwestern cities, he set out to bring Nature Explorations to Phoenix.

Nature Explorations invests in the next generation of conservation leaders and utilizes a community engagement framework that centers community voices. At Rio Salado, the program includes hiring and mentoring local Program Coordinators, developing a Community Engagement Fellowship Program and providing paid internships for high school teens and young adults. The program directly involves young people in addressing the barriers that communities of color face and improving accessibility to nature’s benefits.

To launch Nature Explorations at the Center, Audubon Southwest has been awarded a competitive $65,000 matching grant from the Maggie Walker Incentive Fund. National Audubon Society’s Board Chair Maggie Walker created the fund to support the innovative programming and sustainability of Audubon Centers. To date, 70% has been raised toward the match, requiring new or increased donations to qualify. Leading support has been generously provided by Arizona Community Foundation, The Burton Family Foundation and The Synchronicity Fund.

Thanks to all who supported Nature Explorations by donating to USA TODAY NETWORK’s A Community Thrives campaign this summer. More than $2,000 was raised for Arizona, and the total raised exceeded the $6,000 goal required for Nature Explorations to be considered for a National Project Grant from Gannett Foundation.

To learn more about Nature Explorations, contact Genaro Ruiz, Center Director, at 602.468-6470 x105 or genaro.ruiz@audubon.org. If you wish to donate to this program, you can send a check to Audubon Southwest, 3131 S. Central Ave., Phoenix, AZ 85040 or make a credit card donation by calling Stella Reed, Office and Outreach Manager, at 505-983-4609 x23.

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